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AUGUSTA, Ga.—There weren’t many people who arrived at Augusta National on Sunday morning planning to cheer for Danny Willett, but every single one of them was apparently present at his sunset green jacket ceremony.
There were his mates, the crew of eight who’d been the first to greet Willett as a Masters champion. Clutching souvenir yellow flags and plastic cups, they’d shuttled like dazed ducklings from the scoring building to the ceremony, led by several green jacket-wearing members.
There was his longtime caddy, Jonathan Smart, tipped back in his chair, still wearing his whites and sunglasses, still trying to take it all in. “Simple questions, please,” he requested of an interviewer a few minutes before the ceremony. “I’m not thinking too clear right now.”
There were his agents, sponsors, coaches, and management team, each understanding that they’d just added a zero to Willett’s asking price.
And then there were the fans, calling out “Well done, Danny!” and “York-SHIRE!” (think an English “Roll Tide”) in accents not often heard amongst the Georgia pines.
They were all there, many of the most important people in Willett’s life. But the ones he wanted most to share this day with were half a world away.
Willett pulled off a handful of triumphs on Sunday – carding six birdies in 11 holes, bringing home the low score on the day, wrestling the green jacket out of Jordan Spieth’s grasp – and yet it’s only the second-most-amazing event of the past couple weeks. Willett’s wife Nicole gave birth to their first child, a son named Zach, twelve days ago.
“It's been crazy,” Willett said afterward. “I'm not quite sure which is better, this day or last Tuesday. They are very, very, very close there. I don't know which one I should say to be politically correct.” [Correct answer: last Tuesday.]
[Slideshow: Best of the Masters final round]
Try this on for a schedule: Willett played in the World Golf Championships’ Dell Match Play in the last week of March. He then jetted back to England to be present for the birth of his son. He spent three days on baby duty – “changing nappies, making bottles, doing everything normal that a dad with a new son does” – then took lessons on Friday and Saturday, spent Sunday at home, jumped on a plane on Monday to Augusta, and arrived late Monday evening. As the last player to arrive, his caddy took the number 89 – which just happened to be Jack Nicklaus’s number when he won the Masters in 1986.
It’s one of many curious little synchronicities surrounding this past week’s Masters for the Willett family. Sunday wasn’t just the original due date for Zach, it was the day Nicole’s mother went into labor with her while Sandy Lyle was winning the Masters – the same Sandy Lyle who teed off about an hour before Willett on Friday. Fate looks definitive only in hindsight, but there were an awful lot of signs pointing toward that green jacket ceremony for Willett.
In the moments before that ceremony, Willett called his wife and, through a crackling connection, heard her tell him “well done.” Moments later, Smart tackled Willett as the Masters championship was officially his.
Meanwhile, another family member – Willett’s brother Paul – was in the midst of a bravura performance on Twitter, both celebrating his brother’s accomplishment and railing on Willett as only a brother can:
If the boy does what he should, I will be able to say 'I've shared a bath with a Masters winners - brilliant#bbcgolf
— P J Willett (@P_J_Willett) April 10, 2016
— P J Willett (@P_J_Willett) April 10, 2016
“Danny Willett’s life is about to change forever,” said one fellow in the gallery as Willett walked through a mass of cheering Augusta National members – and, of course, his friends – where a disappointed but nonetheless stolid Spieth waited to put the green jacket on his shoulders.
"It's just been the most ridiculously awesome 12 days," Willett said. "Words can't describe what I'm feeling right now, but words definitely can't describe how I was feeling last Tuesday when you get to hold, you know, something that me and my wife have made. It's just been incredibly surreal."
Birth of your first child. Trip with the guys to Augusta for the Masters. Throw a brand-new jacket into the mix, and that’s a pretty strong couple of weeks.